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Manoa 12.1 (2000) 230-241

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The Bird

Albert Wendt

Iona visits his grandparents, Faga and Maopo, at 11 A.M. every Monday, when Malia, his oldest sister, and her husband and their three children who live with their grandparents are at work and school, because he wants his grandparents to himself for the one-hour duration of his visit. Iona says nothing to Sam, his cousin, who is driving them to his grandparents' in Mangere.

Hot summer day. No wind. He loves the heat. When he gazes out at the Manukau, the dazzling morning light ricocheting off the surface of the black water cuts into the core of his eyes and he has to look away.

No one about in the street. Sam stops the car in front of number 134. Iona gets out and, pausing at the front gate, concludes once again that their family home is the most expensive one in the street. He'd wanted to buy them a larger house outside South Auckland but they'd refused, insisting they wanted to finish their lives in the modest state house they'd raised him and his sisters in. Besides, their church, closest aiga, and friends were there. So he'd bought the house, gutted and renovated it completely, thrown out all the old furniture and appliances and refurnished it with what Faga told her friends at church was "the most expensive furniture and things this side of Heaven." He always gives his grandparents the best. After all, they'd struggled in shit factories and shit cleaning jobs to raise him, his two sisters, and cousins, after their parents had died in that horrific car crash, when his dad had been bloody drunk, full to his violent gills! Yes, for over twenty years Faga and Maopo had slaved their guts out for them.

He pushes open the gate and is immediately in a sea of colour and scent, Faga's front garden. Among the lush, exuberant mix of flowers are taro and bananas--Maopo's contribution.

"Twelve, okay?" Sam calls to him. He nods.

Opening the front door with his key, he goes into the corridor, which is alive with the smell of coconut oil, the smell of his growing up. Coconut oil is Faga's cure for everything. His sisters and cousins hate it because they don't want to be identified as Coconuts. Yeah, but he loves it, is proud of it, flaunts it. "Faga!" he calls.

"Is that you?" Her voice comes from the kitchen. He finds her crouched [End Page 230] on the floor, cleaning the cupboard under the sink. He wants to help her. But he doesn't, because Faga doesn't like being considered old and helpless. He waits until she's standing up, her thin, frail body trembling from the strain of rising from the floor. "Can you see my eyes anywhere?" she asks in Samoan. He finds her glasses on the bench and gives them to her. "You go in and sit with Maopo while I prepare some lunch." He hesitates. "Go on. I've cooked some chop suey and taro. You look too skinny, Iona. Too much palagi food." Her mind and memory are still strong, but she's slowing down, becoming forgetful, sometimes confusing the past and the present.

Maopo is in the middle of the bed, still, vacant eyes staring into the ceiling. Bed-ridden, unable to recognise anyone else but Faga. Maopo's emaciated face, with the eyes deeply buried in their hollow sockets, reminds him of the face of an owl. Been like this for about a year. And worsening. Iona hesitates at the door. Can't take this anymore, watching his grandad being eaten up by old age. First his sight, then his hearing, his body, then control of his bodily functions, cruel fucking humiliation for someone who'd lived so comfortably in and with his body and senses. Grace, marvellous coordination of movement and muscle...And you can't do a thing to stop the final humiliation, this slow death.

He sits down in the chair by the bed. Smoothes down...


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pp. 230-241
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